Comparing body image dissatisfaction between pregnant women and non-pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Anna Elizabeth Crossland, Lydia Munns, Elizabeth Kirk, Catherine Elizabeth Jane Preston

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Body image dissatisfaction refers to negative thoughts and feelings individuals have towards their own body appearance and this is thought to be affected by the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. There are two main conflicting theories as to the effect pregnancy has on body image dissatisfaction: 1) Pregnancy related changes are in direct conflict with social ideas of female beauty (e.g. weight gain) and so increase body image dissatisfaction; 2) Due to changes in expectations of bodily appearance during pregnancy, women are liberated from social ideals at this time and thus body image dissatisfaction would decrease. This study aimed to assess these theories by synthesising the current literature. Six databases were searched, and 2,017 study abstracts were screened based on strict inclusion and exclusion criteria. Following screening and quality assessment by two blind reviewers, 17 studies (comprising 17 effect sizes) were subject to full review and meta-analysis following PRISMA guidelines. These studies included cross-sectional, longitudinal and retrospective designs. Results varied with some studies showing women to feel more positive about their body during pregnancy, others showing a more negative body experience and yet others showing no statistical difference. Overall the analysis showed no statistical difference in body image dissatisfaction between pregnant women and non-pregnant women (p = 0.39). Any changes that do occur are heterogeneous and likely to be largely dependent on the individual experience as well as moderator variables and other factors such as differences in methodology of research studies. Studies in this field of research would benefit from more explicit and complete reporting of data and key variables, in order to allow early intervention for women who display body image dissatisfaction in pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number709
Number of pages19
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2023

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